1. Have a well-stocked first aid kit & infirmary set up
Many injured and sick birds can be cared for by the average backyard chicken-keeper at least until professional veterinary care can be obtained. Having some first aid essentials such as vitamins & electrolytes, a dropper or syringe, Vetrap and Vetericyn Wound Care spray, on-hand is critical to being able to deliver emergency medical aid and may mean the difference between life and death.
Having a dedicated crate or special location to keep a sick or injured bird is important so that they can be closely observed during their crisis.
2. Identify local resources before you need them
a) Find an avian veterinarian nearby before there is an emergency and keep their phone number in your chicken first aid kit. There is a list of board certified avian vets HERE. Not all avian vets will treat chickens and not all are trained in or have experience with chicken care. Even if an avian vet in your area does not treat chickens, they can often be a good resource for a referral to a poultry vet. This vet will likely not be the same one who already treats your other animals. A visit to the office to introduce yourself to the staff can be the difference between being seen during a crisis and being told the vet has no time to examine your bird. Have a backup plan. Find out who covers for that vet when they are unavailable and keep their number handy too.
c) Find your state veterinarian HERE.
d) Call the USDA’s Veterinary Services at 1-866-536-7593 (free consultation with a vet by phone)
e) Find your state Agricultural Extension Service’s poultry agent HERE
3. Have a euthanasia plan
There will inevitably come a time in every flock when a sick or injured bird will need to be euthanized. Some people are capable of euthanizing their own bird by a variety of humane methods. Learn which methods are available and whether you are capable of following through with one when the need arises.
Euthanasia by Cervical Dislocation
In my experience, the fastest, least gruesome and most humane method of euthanasia is cervical dislocation or “breaking” the chicken’s neck, which causes instant unconsciousness and death. While holding the chicken under non-dominant arm like a football, press its body very securely against your side. Place your dominant hand on top of the bird’s head with with your thumb at the base of the skull behind the head, fingers wrapping underneath the throat. With a very firm grip, quickly and firmly stretch and pull the head straight forward, away from the body while bending the neck up towards its back until a popping sound is heard, which signals the separation of the vertebrae and instant death. Continue to hold the bird securely until nerve activity has stopped. More about cervical dislocation from a poultry veterinarian can be found here.
4. Locate your state veterinary diagnostic laboratory* & get a necropsy done
Each state has a veterinary lab that will run tests and perform postmortem examinations on animals to determine the cause of death. Know where your lab is, how to contact them and which services they offer. If a bird dies unexpectedly, it is extremely important to get a necropsy done to determine the cause of death. Some illnesses and diseases are contagious and the rest of the flock may be at risk. A determination of the cause of death can provide some peace of mind and the information necessary to administer any treatment to survivors.If you will be transporting a deceased bird to the lab yourself, it is critical to get her there as soon as possible after the time of death and that the body is stored properly until then. It should be placed inside two plastic bags, sealed and kept under refrigeration (not frozen) until it can be delivered to the lab. Some labs will send a courier to pick up the remains and any necessary paperwork.
5. Request a copy of the Necropsy Report
While the lab will send a report to a veterinarian automatically, I think it’s important to request a copy to learn what was found and keep it on file as part of your flock’s health history. I have some medical training and experience, so I understood most of the following report, but if you do not, discuss the necropsy report with your vet and let them know if you do not understand the terminology they are using.